Legendary ESPN color commentator Dick Vitale reportedly will not be making the trip to Durham with the network for this week's rivalry matchup between Duke and North Carolina.
Tom Jones of the Tampa Bay Times reported Vitale was not assigned to Wednesday night's broadcast, marking the first time in his career he won't be on hand for the festivities. Vitale joined ESPN during its launch year of 1979 and has called every Duke-North Carolina game since.
Play-by-play man Dan Shulman and color analyst Jay Bilas, a former Duke player, will instead handle the game. ESPN had assigned Vitale to join Shulman and Bilas for a three-man booth in recent years.
Sergio Tovar of the Charlotte Observer weighed in on the news that Vitale would not be courtside for the contest:
Sergio Tovar @sergiotovar
You can say what you want about Dick Vitale, but the man loves the UNC-Duke rivalry. If he's not calling the game, it's the end of an era.2015-2-16 14:23:11
Vitale commented on ESPN's decision, per Andrew Carter of the newsobserver.com:
I told them that I cannot lie when a writer asks me what's my feeling not doing the game. I said I have to be honest. And my honest reply to you is, obviously, I'm a loyal, team player. I will go where my bosses tell me to go.
But in my heart I will absolutely miss being a part of North Carolina-Duke.
Shulman and Bilas have generated an increasingly high profile as one of the sport's top announcing duos and took over most of ESPN's top programing for 2014-15. The network announced in October that Bilas would supplant Vitale for its Saturday night prime-time telecasts as part of a contract extension.
Vitale has continued working for ESPN, mostly doing midafternoon Saturday games and the occasional high-profile weeknight contest.
Those who are worried his absence could lead to a phasing out at ESPN can also breathe easy. While he may not be lending his irreverent brand to one of the nation's biggest rivalries anymore, his new contract—also signed in October—runs through through the 2016-17 season.
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